Player to Watch
Rico Hill, a 6'6" junior forward, is the Brady Anderson of college hoops. Just as, clear out of the blue, Anderson hit 50 home runs two years ago, this season Hill has been a sensational surprise. After canning only 20.8% from three-point range last year, Hill, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, has shot a trey magnifique 49.4%. "Rico's outside shooting has made it much more difficult to guard him," says Stallings, "and that makes our inside game even better."
Are they the Redbirds or the Graybeards? With all 14 players back from the team that lost to Iowa State in last year's first round, Illinois State isn't lacking experience. What it is lacking is height. At 6'7", Watkins is the tallest starter on a front line that gave up 29 points and 12 rebounds to the Cyclones' Kelvin Cato in the 1997 tournament and 20 points and 14 boards to Pacific's Michael Olowokandi this year.
Mild upset gets Redbirds second-round date with Arizona. Then everything—State included—returns to Normal.
MARCH 12, 14/SACRAMENTO
Coach Gary Williams
Team scoring 79.0 (FG%: 46.3) (3-pointers: 145-422, 34.4%)
Opponents' scoring 72.1 (FG%: 40.7)
Rebound margin +1.3 Team FT% 67.9
Whom not to foul Sarunas Jasikevicius (77%), Laron Profit (71%)
Whom to foul Mike Mardesich (60%), Obinna Ekezie (67%)
Quality wins Kansas 86-83, North Carolina 89-83, Temple 83-66
Player to Watch
Is there a more underrated ACC player than 6'8", 220-pound senior forward Rodney Elliott? He still answers to his childhood nickname, Noodles, but he has been rock steady on a Terrapins team loaded with inconsistent players. Elliott averaged 7.1 rebounds and scored in double figures in all but three games. He closed out the regular season with a 20-point, 17-rebound performance against Temple.
The Terps must stay focused: Big wins over Kansas and North Carolina were followed by losses to so-so George Washington and Wake Forest. One hot-and-cold player is top-scorer Profit (16.1), a junior swingman, who made 45.5% of his field goals but just 29.6% from three-point range. Another Terps problem: Terrell Stokes is too much of a shoot-first point guard, which is why he was benched for three games in January.
If the Terps can get past Illinois in a sexy second-round matchup, watch them beat Arizona in the regional semis.